Is it important to you that you give an honest quote for business, even if that means losing out to the competition (who may not be so honest)? Would you turn down a big client if you felt they were asking you to do something unethical?
These are examples of ethical values guiding your decision-making.
The foundations of any ethics programme will be an organisation’s core values.
Ethical values guide the way that business is done - what is acceptable, desirable and responsible behaviour, above and beyond compliance with laws and regulations.
It may be that the organisation’s values are implicit rather than explicit. Although they may not yet have been formally articulated, values underpin ‘the way business is done around here’. Core values exist in most organisations whether they have been consciously created through many years of leaders behaving in a certain way or left entirely to chance.
Whatever the size or sector, or what policies and programmes are in place, it is the organisation’s values which underpin those policies, and provide the framework for the company’s culture and any decision-making.
The values inform the organisation’s ethics policy. This sets out the organisation’s commitment to high ethical standards and how this will be governed, implemented and monitored.
If an organisation wants to take ethics seriously, it needs to identify the core values or principles to which it wishes to be committed and held accountable. It then needs to translate those values into guidance for all employees so that they are helped with discretionary decisions i.e. when there are no rules or when facing an ethical dilemma. These form the foundation for a set of corporate ethical commitments and the organisation's approach to corporate responsibility.
Commonly used value words found in introductions/preambles to codes of ethics include: responsibility, integrity, honesty, respect, trust, openness, fairness and transparency. Organisations may also articulate a set of business values, such as quality, profitability, efficiency, reliability and customer service.
An ethical dilemma involves a situation that makes a person question what the 'right' thing to do is. Ethical dilemmas make individuals think about their obligations, duties or responsibilities. It is through a dilemma that most employees experience business ethics.
These dilemmas can be highly complex and difficult to resolve. Complex ethical dilemmas involve a decision between right and right (choosing between right or wrong should not be a dilemma!). An example might be where you uncover a friend's misdemeanour: You have a duty to your employer to report it, but also a duty to be loyal to your friend in a situation that could lead to their dismissal.
Some examples of ethical dilemmas - what would you do?
At the IBE, we differentiate between ethical values (such as honesty, fairness, integrity, trustworthiness, respect) and business values (such as innovation, value-for-money, customer-focus).
Business values are what the company will deliver; ethical values are how the business values will be achieved.
How can ethical values translate internationally?
There is one way ethics can be translated across all cultures, and that is the Golden Rule – treat others as you would wish to be treated. The Golden Rule appears in most of the world’s religions and can be used as a common basis with which to do business